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Her story: While Mary’s family is originally from California, they moved to Lansing, Michigan when she was four years old. Mary was homeschooled, but she started taking classes at Lansing Community College during her high school years before eventually transferring to the University of Michigan. She was at the University for three years before graduating with her BS in Astrophysics in 2013.
Mary first developed a sudden interest in astronomy when she was eight years old. Being homeschooled, she had more freedom to study the topics that interested her, so she started by checking out all of the astronomy-related books she could find at the library. When she was 11, her parents bought her first small telescope. Mary’s interest in astronomy faded a bit when she was a teenager, but was revived during a class she took in community college that expanded her knowledge of astronomy and what you could do with a degree in that field.
Her time at the University: Mary chose to attend the University of Michigan because she wanted a school with a good astronomy program and she also wanted to stay local to be near her family. Having grown up in Lansing, with a choice between U of M and MSU, Ann Arbor was a new and exciting start for Mary.
When she came to the University, Mary decided on an astrophysics major but wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with it at first. She did some astronomy research in the department but realized that wasn’t her passion, but in her first year she joined the Student Astronomical Society (SAS) and began doing some volunteer work in the planetarium in Angell Hall. She later began working at both the Natural History Museum and the Detroit Observatory, experiences which helped to build her interest in public outreach.
Working in Planetariums: Currently Mary is living in California and working at the California Academy of Sciences, a science museum that focuses a lot on biology and the environment. Mary works in their planetarium as the senior planetarium presenter. She helps to prepare and present shows and also trains the other presenters.
While Mary loves working in planetariums and in the public outreach and education side of astronomy, she acknowledges that there are some challenges presented by the niche field she has chosen. Where she works now, there are only a handful of full-time jobs. Mary started out in a part time position and worked hard to get where she’s at now. “If you want to make a career of it, you either have to wait a bit or be prepared to go somewhere else,” she said. “It can be challenging to move up, but as long as you’re flexible and know where to look, you can be successful.”
Even though working in planetariums presents its challenges, Mary has found that networking and getting in touch with other people in the industry is very helpful. In 2017 she had the opportunity to attend the Pleiades National Planetarium Conference, which helped to introduce her to a lot of other people in the planetarium field. She is also a member of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) because of her connection to Michigan. GLPA is a professional organization that helps her to stay involved with space science educators in the Midwest.
While Mary would like to stay in the position she is in for a while longer, she would be interested in ultimately moving up to a director position or working in another science museum. She is also considering going back to school for a Master’s in Museum Education or Science Education.
Her advice for future students: For students who are considering an undergraduate degree in astronomy or maybe just taking a few classes, Mary has some pretty simple advice: “Do it, because it’s awesome. As you’re taking classes and going to school, just be really open minded about what you’re interested in and what you want to do. There is really so much you can do.”